Archive for March 31st, 2009

Richard Nisbett: Intelligence mostly varies due to the environment, not genes

| March 31, 2009 | 4 Replies
Richard Nisbett:  Intelligence mostly varies due to the environment, not genes

The dominant hereditarian view of intelligence holds that intelligence is mostly fixed by the genes. Richard Nisbett has dismantled the evidence on which the hereditarian theory is based. In his new book, Intelligence and How to Get It, Nesbitt argues that the twin studies on which the hereditarian view is based are deeply flawed. The main problem is that the adoptive homes in which those separated twins often find themselves are uniformly enriched learning environments. Nisbett’s book was reviewed by Jim Holt of the NYT Book Review:

Nisbett bridles at the hereditarian claim that I.Q. is 75 to 85 percent heritable; the real figure, he thinks, is less than 50 percent. Estimates come from comparing the I.Q.’s of blood relatives — identical twins, fraternal twins, siblings — growing up in different adoptive families. But there is a snare here. As Nisbett observes, “adoptive families, like Tolstoy’s happy families, are all alike.” Not only are they more affluent than average, they also tend to give children lots of cognitive stimulation. Thus data from them yield erroneously high estimates of I.Q. heritability. (Think: if we all grew up in exactly the same environment, I.Q. differences would appear to be 100 percent genetic.) This underscores an important point: there is no fixed value for heritability. The notion makes sense only relative to a population. Heritability of I.Q. is higher for upper-class families than for lower-class families, because lower-class families provide a wider range of cognitive environments, from terrible to pretty good.

What does Nisbett’s book have to say about race and intelligence? That the differences among the “races” are not genetic. Evidence in point: The “racial” IQ gap has been shrinking. “Over the last 30 years, the measured I.Q. difference between black and white 12-year-olds has dropped from 15 points to 9.5 points.”

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Boats for free

| March 31, 2009 | Reply
Boats for free

The NYT reports that many people are dumping their boats–simply abandoning them:

Some of those disposing of their boats are in the same bind as overstretched homeowners: they face steep payments on an asset that is diminishing in value and decide not to continue. They either default on the debt or take bolder measures.

Marina and maritime officials around the country say they believe, however, that most of the abandoned vessels cluttering their waters are fully paid for. They are expensive-to-maintain toys that have lost their appeal.

This story reminds me of something my friend Gary once told me:

Gary: What’s the second-happiest day in a person’s life?

Me: I don’t know.

Gary: The day they buy a boat. What’s the happiest day in a person’s life?

Me: I don’t know.

Gary: The day they selltheir boat.

This abandonment of playthings reminds me of the 20-foot Python problem that could someday take over 1/3 of the U.S.

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How I Got Into John McCain’s Pants

| March 31, 2009 | 1 Reply
How I Got Into John McCain’s Pants

Well, it was this John W. McCain, and he wasn’t in them at the time. We were in Cincinnati for a dance weekend, the Pigtown Fling. That’s the same event that I mentioned last year when I didn’t go to the Creation Museum. I didn’t go there this time, either.

But how did I get into John McCain’s Pants? Well, dancing is hot work. It’s like doing aerobics or jogging, but with hot and cold hotter running women flowing through your arms all night. So by the end of the evening, I was quite het up. It didn’t occur to me to pull on long pants.

We drove to our hosts house in the rainy wee hours. (Short dashboard video of driving “home” to the tune of “Hello, I must be Going”)

As we arrived and cooled down, I discovered that I had left my long pants back at the gym. I’d get cold knees in the morning. After a couple of hours of conversation, I got a good night’s sleep. Note: At a dance weekend, anything over 4 hours is phenomenal.

In the morning I got up to shower. When I returned to my guest room, I spied a pair of unfamiliar slacks neatly lain at the foot of my bed. I’d had a visit from The Trouser Fairy! No host was in sight; he apparently returned to sleep in.

So I started my day in John McCain’s pants. They eerily reminded me of a pair I’d owned some years back. Who’d’a thunk that Big John wore nearly my size?

Here’s a video of our group dancing during Earth Hour, the next night:

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At It Again

| March 31, 2009 | 2 Replies
At It Again

Oh please, is there no respite from this sort of thing? Over on Pharyngula is this little bit on the Vatican’s newest attempt to recruit an ideal priesthood, this time free of gays.

Now, the Catholic Church has done screening for centuries. They actually work hard to dissuade people from attempting to be priests because they know how difficult the various vows are to keep. I don’t doubt for a minute that some of this screening is responsible, in kind of an unfortunate “unintended consequences” way, with the number of child sexual abuse cases that seem rampant more in the Catholic Church than in any other. You screen for people who have “normal” sexual proclivities and eliminate the ones who probably won’t be able to maintain celibacy, you end up with (probably) a higher percentage of those who exhibit a lower than average normal sex drive (however you decide to define that), but may have a higher, shall we say, alternative proclivity…

Anyway, that’s just my opinion. But apparently the Vatican has decided there’s something to looking at alternative sexualities as a deal breaker, but for goodness sake the question still needs to be asked, just what is it they find so offensive and, we assume, dangerous about gays?

By and large, the Catholic Church, for all its faults, possesses one of the more sophisticated philosophical approaches to life in all its manifestations among the various sects. As a philosophy teacher of mine said once, “they seem to have a handle on what life is all about.” Despite the very public embarrassments that emerge from the high profile conservative and reactionary elements within it, the Catholic Church probably has the healthiest worldview of the lot. (I was a Lutheran in my childhood and believe me, in the matter of guilt the Catholics have nothing on Lutherans.)

But they have been electing popes who seem bent on turning the clock back to a more intolerant and altogether less sophisticated age, as if the burden of dealing with humanity in its manifold variation is just too much for them. They pine for the days when priests could lay down the law and the parish would snap to. They do not want to deal with humanity in the abstract because it means abandoning certain absolutes—or the concrete—in lieu of a more gestalt understanding. It would be hard work.

And they have an image problem. I mean, if you’re going to let people be people, then what’s the point of joining an elite group when there are no restrictions of the concept of what encompasses human?

But really…this is just embarrassing.

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The extent of the remedy for our financial ailments

| March 31, 2009 | Reply
The extent of the remedy for our financial ailments

How much public money is at stake in the attempt to fix our financial woes? Bloomberg adds it up:

The U.S. government and the Federal Reserve have spent, lent or guaranteed $12.8 trillion, an amount that approaches the value of everything produced in the country last year, to stem the longest recession since the 1930s.

New pledges from the Fed, the Treasury Department and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. include $1 trillion for the Public-Private Investment Program, designed to help investors buy distressed loans and other assets from U.S. banks. The money works out to $42,105 for every man, woman and child in the U.S. and 14 times the $899.8 billion of currency in circulation. The nation’s gross domestic product was $14.2 trillion in 2008.

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